Movie Diary 10/26/2021

Scarecrow Academy continues online; join us on Saturday October 30 at 2 pm Pacific Time for a free discussion of John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank. It’s part of “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director Part 2,” presented by Scarecrow Video in Seattle. You don’t have to have attended any previous sessions to drop in. Info on how to sign up at the Scarecrow Academy page. I introduce the movie here:

Movie Diary 10/25/2021

A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen, 2019). Unreleased in the U.S., as you may have heard. It takes place over a weekend, as an Ivy League smartass (Timothee Chalamet) squires his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to Manhattan, where she comes into the orbit of a movie director (Liev Schrieber) and screenwriter (Jude Law). TC also has free time to get involved with an old acquaintance (Selena Gomez). Vittorio Storaro’s camera sometimes spins pleasantly around the characters (even if there’s a sense that he’s working too hard to jazz things up), and every now and then an actor will really hit a nice patch. In general, I had the same reaction I’ve had to most of Allen’s pictures of the last 25 years, which is that it would have been advisable if he’d done a rewrite, and rehearsed the actors, and developed an ear for the way that rim-shot one-liners have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. (He’s still writing stuff for the Sid Caesar show.) Having said that, the film does engender an agreeable hang-out quality, enhanced by the fantasy New York locations – like a movie made by a young person who’s read too much Salinger in a short period of time. One might also note that while Allen’s work has tended toward the baldly misanthropic lately, with a special cynicism about his female characters (Blue Jasmine comes to mind, and Wonder Wheel), this film seems empathetic to its women, including Fanning’s giddily straying cub reporter – and also Chalamet’s mother, impeccably played by Cherry Jones, who delivers a late revelation that would be hopelessly trite if it weren’t for the actor’s dedication to it. (The exception is a one-scene appearance by Rebecca Hall, who sounds a shrewish note for reasons I’m unclear about, except to have a nag around.) Does Allen believe in anything on screen, other than the pleasant re-creation of a night at the Carlyle? It’s hard to tell.

The Friday 10/22/2021

Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson: Dune (Chia Bella James/Warner Brothers)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Dune. “A minimum of dialogue and a multitude of meaningful glances.”

Join Scarecrow Academy on Saturday, 10/23, at 2 pm Pacific Time, as we meet via Zoom to talk about Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. This is part of “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director,” our ongoing semester about noir – but you don’t have to have attended previously to join in. Sign up (it’s free) at the Scarecrow Academy page, and if you must, listen to me intro below.

At my other blog, What a Feeling!, we’ve got three vintage 1980s reviews posted this week: Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1982, with Ben Kingsley as Bapu; John Sayles’ Baby It’s You, a teen romance with Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano; and Jonathan Kaplan’s Heart Like a Wheel, a sleeper with Bonnie Bedelia as drag racer Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney.

No new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” this week, but they’re revived an oldie: “In a Beatnik Mood,” in which I look at movie music associated with the Beat movement. If that has vanished by the time you read this, look at the M&M page at the Voice of Vashon site to see what’s current.

Movie Diary 10/20/2021

Scarecrow Academy continues on Saturday 10/23 at 2 pm Pacific Time with a conversation about Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 noir The Killing. This is part of our online semester, “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director, Part 2. You can register for the free session at the Scarecrow Academy page, and you can listen to me introduce the film below.

Movie Diary 10/19/2021

The Man Who Haunted Himself (Basil Deardon, 1970). The man is played by Roger Moore, so – when our protagonist finds that a doppelganger is inexplicably showing up and logging time as himself – the main character is fairly bland as his original self, but rather enjoyably naughty when intruding. There’s one magnificent Moore raised eyebrow that crawls its way across the actor’s face at an especially randy moment. It’s based on a novel, The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, that was also turned into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and it feels like something that would fit an hour-long running time better than a repetitive feature-length film. If you seek 1969-era fashion, you are in the right place. Moore makes a James Bond joke at one point.

Movie Diary 10/18/2021

The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes, 2021). Not a documentary, a time machine. I loved it. Reviewed here.

Pray Away (Kristine Solakis, 2021). A look at LGBTQ people who were once convinced to “pray away the gay” through various means and organizations. As you would expect, a world full of pain is revealed, in lucid, thoughtful testimonies.

The Alpinist (Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen, 2021). Portrait of Marc-Andre Leclerc, Canadian free-climber. It’s got the expected vertiginous photography, and also a kind of implied criticism of this kind of adventure documentary – Leclerc would routinely not tell the film crew that he was attempting some daredevil solo climb, for the very good reason that if there were cameras around, it would sorta ruin the reason he climbed.

A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks (John Maggio, 2021). The idea here is to sketch a bio of the pioneering Black photographer/filmmaker, while profiling a handful of people who’ve followed in his footsteps. Which means you don’t quite get enough Parks.

The Neutral Ground (CJ Hunt, 2021). Hunt is a former “Daily Show” producer who leads us through a jokey (in the good way) look at the removal of Confederate monuments, a spectacle that becomes especially keen when he embeds himself with a group of Civil War re-enactors.

No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt, 2020). A look through the life of Billy Tipton, the Spokane-based jazz player whose death brought about the revelation that Billy had been a woman passing as a man for his adult life, surprising everyone who knew him, including his wife.

The Friday 10/15/2021

Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

The Velvet Underground. “What Haynes is really conjuring here is a kind of utopia, a realm in which art is devoured and created and shared.”

We’re in the midst of another Scarecrow Academy semester – a free online discussion series (no homework involved) presented by Scarecrow Video; the subject is “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director (Part 2).” We convene on Saturday, Oct. 16th, at 2 pm Pacific Time, for a talk about Ida Lupino’s 1953 The Hitch-Hiker, with some mention of our second feature, the 1960 Twilight Zone episode, also titled The Hitch-Hiker (but unrelated to Lupino’s film). It’s free, and you can sign up on the Academy page. I intro the event here:

Two additions to my other website, What a Feeling!, this week: vintage 1980s reviews of Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, offered in the spirit of William Shatner’s real-world voyage into space; and Richard Loncraine’s Brimstone & Treacle, a Dennis Potter script starring Sting.

Movie Diary 10/11/2021

We’re in the midst of a Scarecrow Academy semester on Zoom, this one called “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director Part 2.” Join us for this free discussion series, which goes on Saturdays at 2 pm Pacific Time. Here I am introducing our next topic, for October 16th, a look at Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker, with a special second feature in the form of the 1960 Twilight Zone episode also called (but unrelated) The Hitch-Hiker. I explain here.

Movie Diary 10/10/2021

Still on that documentary committee. So, a few to list.

Ascension (Jessica Kingdon, 2021), and Faya Dayi (Jessica Bashir, 2021). Two impressionistic documentaries, sans narration or storyline, both superbly photographed and rhythmically complex. Both, in somewhat different ways, are about systems of production; the former looks at various modes (mostly exploitative) of economy in China, from factories creating sex dolls to schools for prospective butlers, and the latter tracks the use of khat – the chewable leaf that provides sedative drugginess – in Ethiopia.

The Rescue (Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 2021). Do we have the documentary Oscar winner here? The movie ticks all the boxes (although the extensive use of re-created footage makes it a little suspect, purity-wise) as it depicts the efforts to save that boys’ soccer team that got trapped in a cave in Thailand in 2018. You may know the outcome, but damned if the movie isn’t supremely suspenseful.

Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953). We had a nice session of Scarecrow Academy last week with this one; among other things, we talked about how “people gotta eat” is a deeper form of the criminal code than the usual “honor among thieves,” a quality that makes this hard-boiled movie oddly empathetic.

The Friday 10/8/2021

Daniel Craig: No Time to Die (Nicola Dove/MGM)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

No Time to Die. “What it lacks in speed in makes up for in attitude, as the glum mood of the previous couple of Craig titles is leavened with humor and a certain pleasing deftness.”

I’ll be doing my talk for Humanities Washington, “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” on Wed. Oct. 13th at 6 pm Pacific Time, online, thanks to the hosting of the Everett Public Library. You can register for the talk here and read more here.

I have a new episode of my radio show “The Music and the Movies,” this one listening to rock stars who turned to soundtrack composing in the 1980s. Hear what happened when David Byrne went to China, Peter Gabriel found Jesus, and Prince met Batman. Plus, Danny Elfman gets his Burton on and Randy Newman swings for the fences. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

Or check out the M&M page for whatever episode might be live at any moment (as the episodes must disappear after two weeks).

Another session of Scarecrow Academy tomorrow, Sat. 10/9 at 2pm Pacific Time via Zoom, as we discuss Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street. It’s free; listen to more below.

At my other blog, What a Feeling!, I’ve posted some big titles in my revival of vintage 1980s reviews: George Miller’s The Road Warrior, reviewed from an early screening at the Seattle International Film Festival; Paul Schrader’s Cat People, a colorful blend of Kinski and gore; and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, which, I was surprised to find out, was the first Craven picture I’d seen.